A last-ditch attempt to get dairy workers included on the government's Shortage Occupation List has been rejected following a four-month consultation.
Farm workers won't be added to the Migration Advisory Committee's (MAC) list, but occupations such as butchers, bricklayers and welders will.
The MAC launched a call for evidence in May into the skills shortage with responses being used to support the evidence-based recommendations delivered to the Home Secretary this month.
In the report, it said they ‘did not recommend adding farmers to the SOL’ and that the evidence submitted was ‘related to the more general sector than to this specific occupation code’- meaning farmer.
It is also said that because 80% of farmers are classed as self-employed the benefits to the occupation of being on the SOL was limited.
There is now a fear farms relying on foreign workers could be left with a labour shortage from next year when the new points-based immigration system is implemented.
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) said this system will give priority to those with the ‘highest skills and greatest talents’, with dairy workers not falling into these categories.
RABDF Managing Director Matt Knight said: “There’s no doubt this latest failure to recognise dairy workers will leave the UK dairy industry with a labour shortage with some of the largest dairy producers in the UK relying on skilled foreign labour.
“There are real concerns that post-2021 some of our largest, most technically advanced dairy farms could be lost due to their reliance on foreign labour.
"Should this happen the repercussions would be felt right across the industry, with associated businesses such as feed companies and veterinary practices also affected, let alone the impact on milk supply.”
A survey by RABDF in 2016 found over half of the respondents employed staff from outside of the UK in the last five years – a 24% increase on 2014.
Almost two-thirds of respondents said this was due to insufficient UK staff being available.
The survey also showed that more than 50% of migrant workers on dairy farms were classed as highly skilled or mainly highly skilled.